Employment Insurance consultations to be launched later this summer

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada has taken decisive action to provide Canadians with the support they need to stay safe and healthy. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit and, later, the Canada Recovery Benefits have been important lifelines for many Canadians workers and their families during these unprecedented times.

As part of the Government’s economic response to the pandemic, temporary measures were introduced in September 2020 to allow greater flexibility and more people access to the Employment Insurance (EI) program, some for the first time. As a result, more than 3.79 million people workers have accessed EI since last fall, with the program delivering over $37 billion to support Canadian workers and their families. In addition, more than 297,000 workers have accessed EI sickness benefits, which allowed them to stay home to help flatten the curve and not worry about putting food on the table.

The EI program is a critical feature of Canada’s social safety net, supporting workers during temporary work disruptions while at the same time helping to cushion economic downturns. While the Government has made a number of significant changes to strengthen EI in recent years, the program has not had a comprehensive reform in over two decades. The pandemic has further highlighted the need for Canada to modernize the EI system for the 21st Century, so that it better aligns with the realities of today’s labour market and workforce.

Today, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, announced that the Government of Canada will deliver on its Budget 2021 commitment by launching consultations on future longer-term EI improvements in August. The Government will consult with Canadian workers, employers and other stakeholders, recognizing that both employees and employers are partners in the program and have an important stake in how it evolves.

These consultations will help the Government of Canada better understand the needs of workers and employers who could benefit from improvements to the EI program, including in the areas of access, adequacy and affordability. The immediate focus of the consultations will be on improving access to EI by examining systemic gaps exposed by COVID-19. These include the need for income support for self-employed and gig workers; how best to support Canadians through different life events, such as adoption; and how to provide more consistent and reliable benefits to workers in seasonal industries.

The input received will help build an EI program that is more responsive to evolving needs, while ensuring its financial sustainability.

Building a modern EI system to support the nature of today’s labour market is an ambitious project. Recognizing the limitations of the current aging IT system that delivers millions of EI benefits to workers each year, a phased approach to implementing changes is required. Services to employers and workers who need to access the system will remain a top priority.

Quotes

“I am excited to announce the upcoming launch of the EI consultations that will enable Canadian workers, employers and stakeholders to share their views on how we can improve the EI program so that it better aligns with and reflects the realities of today’s labour market. We have a unique opportunity to work together to bring forward a more modern EI program that is more inclusive and responsive to the needs of hard-working Canadians.”

-Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough

Quick facts

  • In 2019, the EI eligibility rate for EI regular benefits-the share of workers who have enough hours of work to meet the entrance requirement, of those who are unemployed, have contributed to the EI program and have a valid job separation-was 82.4 percent. The remaining 17.6 percent did not have sufficient hours to qualify.

  • Roughly 2.9 million people in 2019 (approximately 15 percent of the labour force) identified self-employment as their main job, not including hundreds of thousands of additional Canadians observed in the tax data who rely on a combination of employment and self-employment earnings.

  • EI maternity and parental benefits are key supports to parents welcoming a new child into their home. In 2019-2020, there were just under 168,000 claims for maternity benefits and 213,000 claims for parental benefits.

  • Budget 2021 announced an investment of $5 million over two years, starting in 2021-22, for the Government to conduct targeted consultations on future and long-term EI improvements with Canadians and stakeholders from across the country.

  • Implementation of the EI measures announced in Budget 2021 will require the full operational attention of the EI program between now and September 2022. As a result, the earliest that any further changes could begin following the consultations would be late 2022.

  • The upcoming EI consultations follow previous work such as Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) Ongoing Review of EI Program (2021), EI Service Quality Review Report (2017) and EI Special Benefits Online Consultations (2016).

  • In recent years, the Government has implemented a number of changes to help Canadian workers more easily access EI benefits. These include:

    • In 2016, the maximum number of weeks of EI compassionate care benefits was extended from 6 to 26 weeks, providing additional income support to those who need to take time off to provide end-of-life care or support to a family member.
    • In 2017, the Government reduced the EI waiting period from two weeks to one to better support workers in Canada. Additionally, during the pandemic, the Government temporarily waived the one-week waiting period for EI sickness claims established on or after September 27, 2020 for a period of one year, as well as waived the waiting period for new EI regular, fishing and special benefits claims established between January 31, 2021 and September 25, 2021.
    • In December 2017, changes were made to benefits for caregivers. A new 15-week family caregiving benefit for adults was introduced and more flexibility was provided on who can claim caregiving benefits. In addition, more flexibility was provided for EI maternity benefits claimants who were able to access those benefits earlier (up to 12 weeks before a parent’s due date)
    • As of December 2017, additional flexibility was introduced for parental benefits. New parents could choose between receiving up to 25 weeks of standard parental benefits payable over 12 months at 55 percent of average weekly earnings, or up to 61 weeks of extended parental benefits payable over 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33 percent of average weekly earnings.
    • As of August 2018, Working While on Claim provisions were enhanced such that the rule of 50 cents for every dollar earned became a permanent part of the EI program. It also applies to EI sickness and maternity benefits.
    • In August 2018, the Working While on Claim rules were extended to maternity and sickness benefits so that the birthing parent and those dealing with an illness or injury have greater flexibility to manage their return to work and keep more of their EI benefits.
    • As of March 2019, parents-including adoptive and same-sex parents-can access an additional five weeks of EI parental benefits when they agree to share standard parental benefits, or an additional eight weeks when they agree to share extended parental benefits.
    • The permanent extension of EI sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks through Budget 2021 is expected to take effect in summer 2022.

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